The Marathon ‘Taper’
March typically is the pinnacle of spring marathon training schedules - often the month which will see you clocking up your longest distance runs prior to the big day. This can be motivating, inspiring, exciting, daunting... - but also is often the key to how successful you are on race day.
While it is so easy to understand the mindset of wanting to keep clocking up the miles right up until Marathon Day, the taper period MUST NOT BE IGNORED.
When planning the last few weeks of your training you must be mindful of allowing time for the taper and recovery period, which will enable you to get to the start line feeling fit and ready to go. Remember that physiological changes from training take at least 6 weeks to occur, so that extra push in the last couple of weeks won’t help you on the day of your event. In fact, overdoing it in those final weeks is usually the culprit for last minute injuries, running fatigue, illness or a disappointing performance on the day of the race.
There is evidence that indicates a successful tapering period can improve performance by up to 3% on race day!
So what should you be aiming for?
Tapering begins immediately after the effort of your last longest run. An average marathon training plan would usually see you reach somewhere between 20-23 miles. You should be aiming to gradually decrease the volume of training in the final 2-4 weeks (approximately 20-30% decline per week). As well as addressing the volume of training keep your maximum intensity to no more than your desired ‘race pace.’
You’re looking to conserve energy and avoid ‘accumulative fatigue’ in those final weeks, so you should also avoid the urge to replace the running with other intense exercise during the taper period. Maintaining good mobility, stretching and foam rolling is all helpful and will not deplete your energy stores.
During this time, you may also address your nutrition. The temptation to excuse bad eating habits with the term ‘carb loading’ should definitely be avoided! You could try to increase your protein consumption to aid muscle repair, and gradually increase the amount of carbohydrates in your meals – BUT these need to be useful carbs (think brown rice, sweet potato, whole grains and plenty of fruit and veg)! Drink plenty of water in the weeks before your marathon day, try to avoid caffeinated drinks if possible.
Look to achieve good quality sleep. For some that may mean going to bed earlier than usual, for others just avoiding bad sleep habits (such as looking at screens before bed). It’s quite likely that race day nerves may hamper your sleep the night before, so it’s always worth getting some good rest in the days and weeks before.
Ultimately stay positive. Take confidence from the months of training and planning that have gone before, and do your best to enjoy the day. After all, you’ve earned it!